As part of the work I do with my clients, one of the things we always talk about at our first meeting is whether they have signed a health care proxy. A health care proxy is a legal document which appoints another person to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable. The document only takes effect when your doctor has declared that you are unable to make medical decisions on your own behalf. Only one person at a time can be appointed as your health care agent, but you may list one or more alternate agents.
Once you have signed your health care proxy and given a copy to your health care agent, your doctor, and perhaps put a copy in your glove compartment, your work is not done. It is very important to let your health care agent know what your wishes are so that they know what decisions you would like made for you when you are unable to communicate those wishes.
A person's statement of their wishes regarding health care is often called a Living Will, or life support statement. While these documents are not legally binding in Massachusetts (only the Health Care Proxy is), I recommend to my clients that they think about signing a Living Will. There are a few different ways to communicate your health care wishes:
- You can write a simple handwritten or typed note and sign it and keep it with your health care proxy,
- You can complete a workbook such as Five Wishes (the document I give to my clients) or Your Way,
- You can complete and sign a document handed out by your church or religious organization which lays out the requirements for end of life care, or
- You can even just have a conversation with your health care agent about what you might want in different situations.
The important thing is that your health care agent knows what your beliefs and wishes are surrounding medical care and end of life care. And if you know someone has appointed you as their health care agent, then you should talk to them about their wishes.
If you haven't done any planning, you may wish to download one of the living will documents linked above to get you started, and then get in touch with an attorney to make sure that your wishes will be honored.